The social workers take us aside and are now telling us everything about her background. Following the protocol of foster care, there is a very thick file filled with information from vaccinations to birth parent health history. Some is positive information; some could be worrisome. The little girl, they tell us, does not speak. The social workers don’t label her, but they indicate a doctor has said she should be speaking by now. They tell us she can be withdrawn, is not responding to her name, therefore renaming her would be a healthy fresh start for her. Ian and I don’t even have to look at each other to know we want to move forward.
I’m listening, but I don’t absorb very much. I’m watching this curious, sweet little girl. I look up at Ian -- he’s watching her too. I feel like I’ve seen this scene before. Is it because we wanted it so badly, or is it because it feels so natural?
The social workers now leave us alone with her. Ian and I look at each other -- what should we do? Immediately, the little girl finds a metal pole and bangs it against another pole. It’s loud. She bangs it again and again and now looks at us, with an impish expression: You going to try to stop me?
Ian and I laugh. We have spotted a personality we know well -- mischievous and forceful.
The little girl now stands up, trips and falls. On her face. With us -- two supposed adults -- only inches away, she has fallen on her face. This is exactly one of those moments when I realize I am not a grown-up because I don’t know what to do.
But before we can get to her…she just leaps up, looks at us like, That happened, huh?, and she shakes it off. She doesn’t cry or make a fuss. She is capable. Tough. Determined. She’s cool.
My husband and I have a niece who is the same age, so now we speak to this little girl as if she understands. We do what anyone would do: we get down on the floor and play with her for a while. Then we ask if she is hungry. She nods yes.
So we tell the social workers, and all begin to leave the office. The little girl is clinging to me again and as I carry her, I keep whispering to her that everything will be okay. Now I add that I will always take care of her. She leans into me, her body is so warm. Our entire group follows us down the hall, but I don’t really notice anyone but this delightful, perfect child. We get to the next doorway and Ian now holds out his hands to her…she goes to him. Then she clings to his neck. Ian tries to shift her, but she clings hard as if to say “never let me go.”
Ian’s eyes fill with tears as we walk to the elevator. She is holding on tight. My eyes are so wet I can’t see the elevator buttons. No one is speaking, they’re just letting us have our time together. I run my hand up and down the little girl’s back to reassure her. She is holding on to Ian, and looking at me. I nod reassuringly to her. My insides feel like soft pudding.
On the street Ian puts her up on his shoulders, and she grins widely, really liking it up there. I am beside them with one hand supporting, holding her up when Ian turns toward a plate-glass window so she can see herself. Our reflection stares back: we look like a family.